U.S. underseas cable systems can be protected by existing laws or bilateral treaties
The U.S. does not need to ratify UNCLOS to protect the interests of its underseas cable industry. Submarine cables are already protected under existing international law and any gaps in this law can be resolved by implementing bilateral treaties with states as needed.
The inadequacy of the regime provided by the law of the sea to effectively protect submarine cables, the relevance of which in national economies increases as time goes by, is hardly questionable. The UNCLOS, in particular, is a ‘constitutional’ convention, one that needs other instruments to be put in place in order to ensure the effectiveness of most of its provisions. As stated beforehand, BITs can provide only a partial solution to the problem – in other words, they can represent a solution only in those areas where coastal States exercise their sovereignty. In the high seas and in those areas where the sovereignty of a State is limited by the rights and duties of other States, BITs clearly cannot be a suitable solution. However, BITs and investment law in general can nonetheless represent a model worth following to fill the remaining lacunae of the law of the sea in the regime applicable to submarine cables. The lesson to be learned from investment law is that the multilateral approach is not necessarily the most appropriate. In investment law, the bilateral approach has been proven as successful as it allows each State to pursue their interest at the local level by negotiating the level of protection they deem appropriate in a particular State or region for their nationals. BITs could be a suitable instrument to reach effective and constant protection for submarine cables. Alternatively, bilateral or small multilateral treaties could help to solve once and for all the problem of the current inadequacy of the law of the sea in terms of protection of submarine cables.
In conclusion, these interactions and potential conflicts in the regime applicable to submarine cables regime make further ground arise for the integrated planning and management of activities in ocean and coastal areas.
The scholarship has repeatedly affirmed that such a cooperation and integration of different interests would be best achieved by means of the elaboration of a new international convention. However, it has to be pointed out that disruptions to the integrity of submarine cable systems potentially cost cable companies millions of dollars in repairs and lost revenues from e- commerce and telecommunications.29 In this perspective, rather then spending efforts to negotiate a new Convention on submarine cables, a solution – at least a partial one – can be represented by increasing the cooperation between all actors involved (privates and States) by means of BITs. This would help minimizing the risks of interferences and protect the interests of all the parties involved. As South-East Asia currently represents the most-relevant market for the lay of submarine cables, particular attention in the following analysis will be given to the BITs practice in the region.